Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Scotland was in fact colder than Moscow yesterday. Fortunately not in Edinburgh, but it still felt damn chilly! So think of us freezing our wee tootsies while you are nursing NY hangovers at the beach in NZ.

Last night, to keep warm, we danced in the World's Longest (and most chaotic) Strip-the-Willow, along George Street. we seemed to be surrounded by non-scots, so there was a fair but of creative licence in the dancing. All good fun though.

Tonight is Hogmanay proper - more crowds, more cold, more record-breaking attempts (tonight I think it's something to do with singing Auld Lang Syne). All the Christmas winter woollies are coming in handy!

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Christmas in Scotland

Our Christmas kicked off on Christmas Eve with a bit of present opening (well, that's how Europeans do things, plus Christmas Eve in Scotland = Christmas Day in NZ). Also, we decided to open some in advance as we were heading across to Bellshill on Christmas Eve (no way of getting across on Christmas day, save a £120 taxi), and then going straight to Brussels on Boxing Day - it seemed silly to carry them all that way.

We got some cracker pressies from here and from home - a Bic Runga CD that has been played a lot already, plenty of winter woolies, books, cars (x2 - when Andrew opened his remote control one on Christmas Day he lost interest in the outside world and his only concern was which appliance in my uncle's house contained AA batteries!), and a paua necklace that was perfect for Christmas day. Thanks everyone!

Next stop was Joseph & Michael's (my uncles in Bellshill - where we stayed when we first came to Scotland) - we were staying at their place on Christmas Eve. Little did we suspect that this meant we would be up till 2am wrapping their neighbours' kids' presents! Apparently, this is an annual tradition, and as houseguests, we got roped in. It did mean that we got to see the latest toys and gadgets (all the same really - bikes, colouring books, dolls, games - but new ones to me were the eyetoy and golfclubs). And to marvel at the excessive volume and value of presents.

On Christmas Day we went to my Uncle George & Aunt Janette's for Christmas Dinner - back in Renfrew, my home town. Everyone was there (18 in total) - aunties, uncles, cousins, and even a brand new baby (Dylan) to keep everyone amused and clucking. It was like a family dinner back home, ramped up a notch or two. The Dohertys are renowned for their "gift o' the gab", and consequently, there is much gabbing. Usually at least 6 conversations taking place simultaneously, rich in dialect and colloquialism and family history/rivalries (inevitable at Christmas time and in a family of six). I loved it, even though I could rarely get a word in edgewise - love the verbal agility, the sparring, the storytelling, the laughs. Andrew reports that sometimes he had no clue what was going on!

After presents, food (a very trad Christmas spread, the highlight of which was definitely my Auntie Maureen's chicken soup) and much banter, we left in a different vehicle and in a different direction - this time to Ayrshire, with my Uncle Martin and his partner Ian. Martin keeps horses, so they have a place in the country. As it was dark and raining, we opted out of mucking out the horses before bed! Instead, we marvelled at the volume of stuff in the house, from fab paintings to more than 100 Royal Doulton dolls (the latter less to my taste!). Later, my uncle theorised that this was a reaction to an impoverished Glasgow childhood - because he now has the means to buy and surround himself with material possessions, he does. Interesting...
Brussels sprouts part two

Brussels highlights range from the obvious to the pleasantly surprising. The beer was varied and delicious, served in wood-panelled bars that haven't changed in a century, by aproned waiters (some even with the full-length Trappist-monk style apron) who seem pleased to see and serve you. At a place called A La Becasse, waiters as above serve your draught lambic in earthenware pitchers, and you're seated at long wooden tables. Very rustic! Here's Andrew enjoying a Kriek at La Falstaff:

The food in Brussels was tasty - winter is a great time of year for this kind of food - all mashed potatoes and hearty sausages and tasty stews. No Brussel sprouts, but that's OK, I had my annual quotient at Christmas-time. The Doherty Christmas. That's a whole other story... back to Belgian food for now... The street food was excellent - waffles, of course, and a great find at the Christmas Market were croustillons (sp?), deep fried dough balls with an amazing texture, served dredged with icing sugar in a paper cone. yum.

The Christmas market was a great discovery, 10 mins from our hotel. In the pretty Place Ste Catherine, you could skate, ride bicycles with oval wheels (well, Belgium is the home of surrealism), ride ostriches and flying machines and dinosaurs and other fantastical birds/beasts/machines on the gorgeous merry-go-rounds, ride the big wheel and enjoy spectacular views over the city (we did this at night - the christmas lights looked so cool), eat (and eat, and eat, all manner of tempting treats), drink (mulled wine, gluhwine, hot wine and other variations on the theme) and if you're bored of all that, shop. I could have spent hours there soaking up the festive atmosphere (actually, we might have spent a couple of hours there).

The Atomium was a place that had been recommended to Andrew, and with a name like that, a visit was obligatory (science is fun, he keeps telling me). Actually, it was a very cool place, quite unlike any other building I've seen, with a very fast lift that takes you up to the top sphere, and then skinny escalators taking you between the other spheres. It was all very retro, very 50's - captured the spirit of the age, I think. Up close it's a bit rusty and leaky, but apparently they are working to restore and renovate it to its former fifties' shine. Check out the Atomium website for lots of great pics.

Another surreal moment in Brussels (there were a few!) - the huge nativity scene in the Grand'Place, complete with neon-lit cows (pink, orange, purple) and real grazing sheep. Decidedly weird.

Andrew has a colleague who visited Brussels twice last year, and is going again soon. I can now see why - I would happily visit again (although maybe not with Ryanair!).
Brussels sprouts

The white Christmas didn't eventuate - warm (for Scotland at this time of the year) and wet instead. And now we're having a freezing (but the sun keeps it above zero during some daylight hours) Christmas/New Year hiatus.

I'm enjoying a couple of days of sleeping and reading and not much else - took a quick trot around the sales yesterday, but managed only to buy two things that under closer inspection in natural light need to be returned (a top with lipstick on it, and a pair of navy - not black - wolford tights). This was a rather pathetic effort. My shopping instinct/interest seems to be waning - maybe just a symptom of post Christmas retail exhaustion (although I kept my Christmas shopping fairly minimal this year anyway). All I managed to come back from Brussels with was a jar of chocolate spread from Le Pain Quotidien and some beer picked up at the airport for the simple reason that it's so much cheaper than here.

As you've probably gathered, then, we've just been to Brussels. Flew out from Glasgow Prestwick on Boxing Day to Charleroi (which despite what Ryanair says, is not really anywhere near Brussels), tempted again to fly into obscure airports by the promise of a flight for a penny (plus of course taxes and charges, which for the 2 aforementioned airports should be zero, given their state & services). Much confusion ensued, because the promised connecting bus to Brussels didn't really connect - at least not in the strictest meaning of that word. It was quite late, and when it did arrive, was mobbed by the huge hoard of passengers waiting to be whisked away from Charleroi. A bigger hoard than would fit on the bus. And we were practically at the back of the seething mass, not having developed very good mob mentality instincts. Uh oh. The bus was almost full, and it looked unlikely that we would get on, but then a bigger bus (twice the size) arrived - I suspect this was the one that was supposed to turn up in the first place. All those still outside headed for the big bendy bus, only to wait while the drivers of the 2 buses engaged in a heated and animated conversation. Probably about football. I looked at how many people (about 15) were waiting to get on the big bus, surmised that it was unlikely to leave with such a small load, and managed to blag our way back on to the almost full bus and take the seat of a small child. Our bus promptly left.

An hour later and we had been dropped off at the arse end of Gare du Midi - leaving a lot of people standing around looking confused by the complete lack of signage (or evidence that we were actually in a train station). We navigated our way to the metro, managed to buy tickets (yay high school French) and then discovered that the Metro we thought we were taking was actually an underground tram. Eventually we found our way to our hotel, having travelled by 4x4, plane, bus and tram to get there!

The getting there was the worst bit (getting home a bit of a pain too) - the rest of our time in Brussels was fab! More on that after lunch...I might even venture outside to buy a paper!

Monday, December 22, 2003

It's snowing again. This time during the day (and I'm at home, so get to stare out the window and be mesmerised. In between the various stages of baking an enormous Christmas cake.). Big, floaty flakes - it's so pretty! Now, predictably, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

It's snowing

Just had to share that exciting piece of news. It's been freezing all day, a stay home and watch movies on telly and drink pots and pots of coffee kind of day. And tonight was the final of Pop Idol - something that everyone has been talking about for weeks (months?), but I hadn't managed to catch yet. This was fine, actually, as tonight's 3 hr extravaganza had plenty of scope for flashbacks. If anyone is wondering, Michelle from Glasgow with an absolute belter of a voice beat the pants off cheesy-smile-for-the-camera Mark from Wolverhampton. It was scarily compulsive viewing - I even toyed with the idea of voting at one point!

After Pop Idol, for some reason I decided to take a look outside, and was delighted and excited to see a decent covering of snow on the cars, street, trees, roofs. It was so pretty! And pristine - our street's a cul-de-sac so not much traffic. Mad search for hat and scarf and gloves, and we went out to play - snowballs, a wee snowman and other snowy fun. This is defintely the good bit about winter...

Wednesday, December 17, 2003


Golly, it's been a while (and now Christmas is just around the corner). There have even been complaints about my poor posting form (which I suppose is in a way positive, as some people must actually read this blog).

A week and a half ago, we were in Dublin, as guests of old pals from Wellington. Despite odd "Accenture reunion" moments during the weekend, we had a splendid time. In marked contrast to Italy our pace was quite leisurely, making the long weekend a welcome break from workplace frenzy (to give you a clue, in one month I managed to accrue 5 days of "TOIL" as it is appropriately known here - Time Off In Lieu).

Dublin highlights would have to include the obligatory visit to the Guinness Storehouse - yes it was shamelessly commercial, but the design was fab (love the waterfall and the typography throughout), it was sufficiently interactive (you got to touch and smell everything), and the prize at the end is a perfect pint looking out over the Dublin skyline, surrounded, funnily enough, by a fair few Kathmandu-clad kiwis [the Kathmandu logo, or even just the recognisable Kathmandu classics, make kiwi spotting an easy sport in these parts].

Another highlight was the Saturday organic market in Temple Bar. One word. Yum. The shopping was good too - much more interesting fashion, quite a bit of antipodean stuff in boutiques. My favourite shop was Avoca, a kind of Kate-heaven! Dreamy knitwear, big chunky scarves, quirky gifty stuff, kitchen gadgets, food (glorious food)...I managed to visit twice in three days. Star purchase was these pretty pink Christmas lights that look like flowers (look, we even have presents under our "tree"!).

It was great to stay with locals. Liz and James went above and beyond the call of hosting duty, sending us a dossier of detailed instructions and maps in advance of our visit, plying us with the local brew (as Liz works for Diageo, I'm sure she gets discounts), cooking us dinner...much better than a hotel!

We arrived back in Edinburgh to sub-zero temperatures. It's climbed back up to something more tolerable, but is still a bit hillbilly (as a friend of mine likes to say - think rhyming). Add that to the extremely limited amount of daylight (only properly light at about 9am, and certainly dark well before hometime), and the prospect of hibernating for a month or three is an attractive one. BUT, Friday's my last day at work until the 5th Jan (and half of it will be occupied by Christmas lunch anyway), it's the shortest day on Monday, and then Christmas with the Dohertys, a trip to Brussels, Hogmanay and a visit from Olly & Antoinette over the next fortnight. And there's still Christmas shopping (waaaay more crazy here than in NZ) and travel planning to get me out of bed in the morning.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Film stuff

Interesting times in the NZ film industry. Or at least, it looks that way from afar. The Screen Council has finally been set up, tax incentives are in place (the Large Budget Screen Production Grant), the world prem of LOTR:ROTK was held in Wellington. All stuff that was mooted, talked about, debated while I was working at Film NZ - it's nice to see these things come to fruition. Although, as always in the film industry, not everyone's happy. I was sad not to be there for the prem, looked like an amazing day. I haven't even managed to see a trailer for the film yet (and it's not like I haven't been going to the movies). I must just have been going to the wrong films.

I saw Love, Actually last night, which was, actually, quite entertaining. Sure, there were moments of implausibility (like that whole Wisconsin sequence - I thought at first it was a dream sequence) and schmaltz, but that's what Christmas is all about, isn't it?

I'm particularly looking forward to a new release here, Wilbur (Wants to Kill Himself), a Danish film set in Glasgow, which has had excellent reviews.

Off to Dublin tonight - Slainte!